Breaking stand-off on EU powers

I have watched two speeches from two ministers over the past 48 hours on either side of Wales: one at the Airbus plant in Flintshire and another in the Senedd.

They both cover the question of what to do with EU powers covering devolved areas after Brexit, and how to unlock the standoff that has lasted months.

The UK Government Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington told an audience at the manufacturing base in Broughton that all of the home nations needed to pull together to avoid creating a disjointed and poorer country.

His portrayal was an attempt to pit economic prosperity up against constitutional wrangling.

Then in Cardiff Bay, the Welsh Government Finance Secretary Mark Drakeford told AMs he found it mistifying why the UK Government wanted to pick a fight at home when it was involved in such detailed negotiations with 27 other EU states.

Deal

Privately, the UK Government is deeply frustrated by what it believes is an obsession in Cardiff Bay with powers, while Mr Drakeford openly accuses Whitehall officials of considering themselves to be the "only adults in the room" during discussions.

But despite all of the differences, the sense I got listening to Mr Drakeford was that a deal is not far off.

One of the problems is he wants agreement between the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments, and that will prove difficult.

Plaid Cymru are of the view that the Welsh and Scottish governments will have to split at some point after months in which there has not been a cigarette paper to separate them.

They reference the more conciliatory tone taken by Mark Drakeford than his Scottish counterparts, as well as the optics of David Lidington coming to Wales to make his speech.

Remain

Whether that means the Welsh Government is about to be peeled off in this stand-off is another matter, but it has always been the case that ministers in Edinburgh have had the fall-back position of a strong Remain vote, unlike ministers in Cardiff who are exposed to the accusation of blocking a Brexit which Wales voted for.

In terms of the substance, most of the powers will flow directly to Cardiff and Edinburgh after Brexit apart from a number, including agriculture, which the UK Government is insisting will have to be held at Westminster in a so-called holding pattern.

The principle of UK frameworks are designed to stop potential inconsistencies such as Scottish beef farmers being subsidised more than than those elsewhere is not in question.

What is in question is how those frameworks are put together and whether all sides feel they are having an equal say in that process.

And then when they are up and running, questions the Welsh Government want answers to is what can be done to stop people walking away and how to resolve any disputes?

Situation

David Lidington, for his part, believes the deal on the table now offers enhanced powers. More talks will be held next week.

In the meantime, the devolved administrations proceed with their own fallback positions with continuity bills that could give them the authority to take control of those powers without an agreement.

Until then we have a constitutional "situation" on our hands. Others have called it a crisis but that is a word Mark Drakeford does not like to use.

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